“Have you seen her today?” asked a birder friend of mine breathlessly, panting because he had trotted all the way down the Loop Trail to Southwest Pond.
“No,” I answered regretfully, “but I heard her!” My friend’s eyes got gratifyingly big, so I offered details. “She was calling to her kids. I could tell she was just a few feet away, but she didn’t come out.”
“Yesterday,” bragged my friend, “I saw her out on the path, and she had TWO babies with her. They were walking along right here in the water.”
“Well, I heard she had four babies altogether,” I responded, “and a friend of mine got pictures!”
We both sighed ecstatically. Hollywood has its fan clubs—Justin Bieber has whole claques of them—and we have ours. Perhaps our biggest fan club is the one that idolizes Virginia Rails. We haven’t given ourselves a catchy name yet like Justin’s followers. Rail Trailers? Ranters for Rails? But we are every bit as gaga over our celebs as any fan could be.
Virginia Rails are prehistoric-looking birds of the marshes, with short tails and long, curved bills. They look like footballs on stilts, but they have the ability to change their shape, flattening themselves into pancakes as they pass through the cattails. For the most part, Virginia Rails are shy and retiring. They don’t mind calling loudly when people pass by, but they dislike being looked at. I guess they are conflicted celebrities, like Greta Garbo, who sought fame as a movie star but vanted to be left alone. So it’s always a great day when a Virginia Rail decides to give us a glimpse. The rail family on Southwest Pond has been particularly visible lately, giving us fans thrill after thrill. We’re thinking about starting a Starline bus tour any day now.